Over the past few months I’ve been subjected to a small amount of abuse online from a few unhinged types, spurred on by a group of furious mother hens on Facebook with insignificant links to Bon Scott who think they have some pre-ordained right to speak on the man’s behalf, almost 38 years after his death. The anniversary of Bon’s tragic passing in 1980 is coming on February 19.
What had I done?
One, I’d not written the story in Bon: The Last Highway they wanted to hear. Two, I’d dared suggest in my book that Bon, a bloke nicknamed ‘Ronnie Roadtest’ for his willingness to have a crack at whatever illicit substances were at hand, had died of something other than alcohol poisoning.
But this is not a new idea. As I made very clear in the book, it has been around for decades. I’m not even the first writer to mention heroin: Mark Putterford, Malcolm Dome and Mick Wall have all spoken of heroin in connection to Bon. Mark Evans, former bass player of AC/DC, confirmed to me in my first book on the band, The Youngs, that Bon was nearly sacked for a heroin OD in 1975, while Michael Browning, former manager of AC/DC, has claimed Bon had a second OD in 1976.
Additionally, all the characters who are introduced in Bon: The Last Highway and were around Bon in London on the last night of his life were in some way connected to heroin or the heroin scene.
Further information has even come to light since the publication of the book that I might eventually publish in due course, which only adds weight to the argument made in Bon: The Last Highway that the great AC/DC frontman of the 1970s accidentally died of a heroin overdose.
Significantly, I found two witnesses, both former heroin users, who were at The Music Machine in Camden who saw Bon with their own eyes and thought he’d taken smack.
One of them, astonishingly, admitted being with Bon and heroin user/pusher Alistair Kinnear back at Alistair’s apartment building in East Dulwich on the morning of 19 February 1980. So there was a third person with Bon and Alistair when Bon died.
In the book I also go through each of the accounts available from known individuals who were involved in Bon’s last night/morning on earth and come up with two workable theories for how he died, both of them centred around the one substance some people just can’t bring themselves to admit Bon ever used: heroin.
Does it matter how he died? Well, does it matter how Marilyn Monroe died? Or Jim Morrison? Or John Belushi? I'd say yes. Especially when so many drug deaths to this day are needless and preventable. There are still important lessons that can be drawn from Bon Scott's experience and the fatal mistake he made. I don't see why Bon Scott, as an enduring global icon, should be treated differently to anyone else.
For this there have been charges made against me of “cashing in” and “walking over a dead man’s body”; bans on mentioning the book on some Bon Scott Facebook groups; even threats of physical violence. Yes, seriously.
So do I regret writing the book? Not in a million years. I’ve loved every minute of the three years it took to write, and the four to bring it to press. Bon Scott is a Scottish-Australian hero we should all know about, celebrate and go on celebrating. But for me, his legend is only enhanced by revealing his faults and weaknesses. They don’t tarnish his reputation. They make him more human and relatable, less of a caricature.
I’d rather know the real man, not a statue.
Bon Scott died in London in 1980 aged 33 in circumstances that have never really been adequately explained and for three years I spent writing a book about him, Bon: The Last Highway, released this November.
One of the striking qualities of almost every story to do with Bon is how unreliable they are, even more so when they came from his own mouth. Getting to the truth of the matter – the duty of any biographer – is a tough proposition.
Ever the larrikin and a prodigious drinker, Bon loved to spin a yarn and one of the most enduring of his tall tales was the time in Phoenix, Arizona, he reputedly missed a flight to Texas after encountering a Mexican woman at the airport bar. Over the years in various books the incident has been put as happening in either 1977 or 1979.
As Bon recalled in an anecdote quoted in Clinton Walker’s 1994 biography Highway To Hell and Martin Huxley’s 2005 biography AC/DC: The World’s Heaviest Rock, ‘We’d been drinking in the airport bar for about ten minutes when I says [sic], “Don’t you think it’s time we caught our plane?” And she says, “What do you mean, our plane? I’m staying here.” I runs back and the fuckin’ flight’s gone. Anyway she takes me to this black bar and she’s Mexican – and I starts drinkin’ and playin’ pool. I had a good night, beatin’ every bastard.
‘After about two hours playin’ this big-titted black chick, and beatin’ her too, I happen to look and the bar is goin’, “Grrr.” I think, “Uh oh, Bon”, I gives [sic] her another game and lose nine to one. “Anyone else want to beat me?” I says. So I escapes with me life, only barely – and I made it to the gig in Austin.’
The group’s lead guitarist, Angus Young, elaborated: ‘We were going from California to Austin, Texas, and we stopped off at Phoenix for fuel. We were just taking off again when someone says, “Where’s Bon?” He’d followed this bird off the plane and we reckoned he’d drunk so much he wouldn’t even know which country he was headed for.’
But in March 1980, with Angus recounting the story again to Britain’s Sounds magazine just weeks after Bon’s death, Phoenix suddenly became Detroit and Bon had ended up in a ‘black ghetto’.
‘I remember he missed a plane just once in Detroit when he just followed a girl that he’d met off the plane and ended up in some black ghetto, but that was typical of him, that was something we could laugh at. And he still got there the next day in time for the show.’
‘He missed a plane just once in Detroit.'
– Angus Young
The late Mark Putterford had another take in his 1992 biography AC/DC: Shock To The System: ‘Bon followed an alluring dark-skinned damsel… [and] ended up in some black bar beating all the locals at pool, only escaping with his life when he deliberately turned into the worst pool-shooter in the West.’
By 1995, Angus had changed his story yet again, Detroit becoming Los Angeles.
‘We were supposed to play in Phoenix the night before,’ he told Texan journalist Michael Corcoran, ‘but Bon followed a girl off the plane in LA and he missed the flight.’
What’s it going to be? Which airport exactly? Did it even happen at all?
It’s a very good example of how, when it comes to stories regarding our folk heroes, dead or otherwise, there are plenty of myths or recycled stories that are barely half-truths if not possible fabrications, all seemingly designed to buttress a legend.
The Phoenix incident may or may not have happened. But when it comes to stories about Bon Scott, especially, truth can be an elastic concept.
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available to preorder now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and hundreds of other retailers. Just click the title above (in red) to preorder and save on the retail price.
Jesse Fink is the author of Bon: The Last Highway: The Untold Story of Bon Scott and AC/DC's Back In Black and The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC. For more information about Bon, click HERE or click the book covers below to be directed to editions in your preferred territory and language.